You are currently viewing How do I get to understand comedy in English? It just doesn’t make me laugh… What should I do?

How do I get to understand comedy in English? It just doesn’t make me laugh… What should I do?

This article is dedicated to all those who dream of being funny in English.

Humour is a bridge that connects cultures, breaks down barriers, and enlightens conversations. It might seem like a daunting goal, but with each step in your language journey, you are getting closer.
Created with love by: My Personal English Coach in December 2023

🌟 Where Do We Start?

Being funny in a second language is not just about mastering vocabulary or grammar; it’s about understanding the nuances of culture, context, and timing. Today, we accept the challenge of creating a strategy towards this goal to help make the process of understanding more… well, fun and light. As you analyse with us the most useful communication strategies to finally understand jokes in English, step by step you will find yourself not only understanding English humour, but also creating your own. 🇬🇧😄

Why does Ars Comica go beyond language learning?

The difficulties in understanding jokes in a second language go well beyond understanding vocabulary or grammar.

Indeed, it is precisely there where we can seek a challenge worthy of an Advanced Level (C1-C2) because to laugh (and make others laugh) in the language we are studying, we must take note of 3 major obstacles that we will have to overcome.

These Are:

  • Cultural References: Many jokes rely on specific cultural knowledge or social contexts, which may not be familiar to non-native speakers. British humour, in particular, often includes references to local celebrities, historical events, or societal norms.
  • Language Nuances: Humour often plays on words, using puns, idioms, or subtle linguistic features like intonation or word stress, which can be difficult for learners to catch.
  • Speed and Spontaneity: Comedy shows like “Have I Got News for You” often feature quick exchanges and spontaneous wit, which can be hard to keep up with for those still mastering the language.

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Why Do We Laugh?

We cannot hope to make a public laugh while telling a joke in a language we haven’t always spoken, or to be the life of the party in English if we don’t first understand the principles that make language a humorous tool.

OK… But… Why?

Because much of the comic effect is intuitive in our first language, making it impossible to replicate without a strong awareness. To laugh and make others laugh, we must therefore approach what we at MPEC call bilingual identity. This includes understanding not only the language itself but also the cultural and social contexts that shape humour. Being funny requires an advanced level of language proficiency, as it often involves playing with language norms and expectations.

But, you might ask, does language allow us to create a comic effect in some way? Yes, absolutely.

These are the Top Five Linguistic Devices Creating Comic Effect:

  • Puns: A play on words that have similar sounds but different meanings, or a single word with multiple meanings, used in a humorous way.
  • Hyperbole: Exaggeration for comic effect, often used to create a ridiculous or absurd image.
  • Irony: Saying the opposite of what one means, often for sarcastic or humorous effect.
  • Sarcasm: A form of verbal irony where someone says the opposite of what they truly mean, usually in a sharp or cutting way.
  • Understatement: Deliberately making a situation seem less important or serious than it is, often leading to humorous contrast.

Are you working on a training project for your team or company?

3 Strategic Steps To Start Your Journey Towards Humour in English

To develop a joke-comprehension listening strategy, consider this three-round approach:

  1. First Round – Without Subtitles:
    • Focus on overall understanding and pick up on tone, speed, and delivery of speech.
    • Note down any familiar words or phrases and the context in which jokes are delivered.
  2. Second Round – With English Subtitles:
    • Read along to clarify misunderstood or missed parts.
    • Pay attention to wordplay, cultural references, and how they relate to the humour.
  3. Third Round (Optional) – Without Subtitles:
    • Test your understanding and recall of the jokes.
    • Focus on nuances like intonation, expression, and timing that contribute to the humour.

Between rounds, it’s beneficial to research unfamiliar references or vocabulary.

To make this strategy both feasible and enjoyable, you need to carefully select your ‘source video’. Here are our suggestions to help you choose:

  1. Pick an accent you like and would like to imitate.
  2. Ensure the video is short enough to watch multiple times without having to take days off work.
  3. Choose videos with a weekly or daily continuation (YouTube channels, TV series, comedic podcasts, etc.). This makes it easier to turn this strategy into a new habit.

For us, several tops tick all the boxes. We love the BBC series ‘Have I Got News For You’. We adore Conan O’Brien and his podcast ‘Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend’. But there are also the stand-up comedians who are hilarious: Ricky Gervais (UK), Chris Rock (US), Bill Burr (US), and many others.

3 Perfect Examples To Start With:

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